BILLINGS — Billings West built a double-digit first half lead over Kalispell Flathead in the Class AA state title game Friday night at Daylis Stadium, but needed a goal-line stop late in the fourth quarter to claim the state championship. West’s 20-14 victory is the first state championship since 2005 and fourth in program history.
West started fast, recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff at the Flathead 20-yard line. Less than a minute later, Jesse Owens took a pitch 9 yards to put the Bears ahead 7-0. After a Flathead three-and-out, West struck again. Quarterback Josh Erbacher fired a 29-yard strike to Lucas Gibb, putting the Bears up 14-0 just over five minutes into the game.
Flathead then began to ride stud senior tailback Blake Counts. The Braves ate up nearly eight minutes off the clock but were unable to convert on fourth down inside the West 10-yard line. West looked poised to go up three scores, but Gannon Welder came up with a strip-sack for the Braves. Two plays later, Flathead quarterback Jaden MacNeil ran it in from 7 yards out to cut the deficit to 14-7.
West answered quickly, scoring in less than two minutes. Erbacher found Owens in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown to put the Bears up 20-7 with under five minutes in the first half. Flathead missed a 36-yard field goal at the end of the first half, as West carried the 20-7 lead into halftime.
West took the opening kickoff of the second half and picked up a pair of first downs, but ultimately had to punt. Flathead took over at its own 6-yard line before marching on a 10-minute drive, chewing up the final 8:35 of the third quarter. On fourth and goal from the West 7-yard line, MacNeil rolled to his left and hit Anthony Jones in the corner of the end zone, cutting the West lead to 20-14 with 10:26 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Bears ensuing drive was killed by penalties. After driving down to the Flathead 5-yard line, a false start and offensive pass interference forced West back to the 25-yard line. Erbacher was then intercepted in the end zone by Brian Wells, giving Flathead an opportunity to take the lead late. Flathead again rode Counts, as his 41-yard run set Flathead up with first and goal at the West 7. Facing fourth and goal, MacNeil went to the air, but Gibb broke up the pass in the end zone, preserving the West lead. Cade Nelson iced the game for West with a 26-yard run to pick up a first down and wind out the clock.
Counts finished with 203 yards on 34 carries and passed former Flathead, University of Montana and NFL running back Lex Hiliard for the most career rushing yards in program history. West running back DeMarcus Carr set the school’s single-season rushing record in the win.
Billings West finishes 11-1, while Kalispell Flathead finishes 9-4.